Meet Erin Espinosa, PhD, Director of Research at Evident Change, and an avid child and family advocate for social justice. Erin has been a friend of TACFS for years and we’ve called on her on countless occasions to assist us in navigating the intersectionality of Texas systems. She is in an exciting role with Evident Change and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce her to our network as a national ally and partner.  

Prior to joining the Evident Change team in 2019, Erin served as the Director of the Texas Center of the Institute for Innovation and Implementation out of the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work, and as a consultant for the Child, Adolescent, and Family Branch’s (CAFB) Children’s Mental Health Initiative (CMHI) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). She holds a master’s degree in public administration with a specialization in finance from Angelo State University and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in juvenile justice from Prairie View A&M University. Erin clarified that although she isn’t a social worker by trade, she views the world through a social work lens and that has helped to guide her values and work both personally and professionally.  

Erin is a respected and sought out leader and researcher in child and family serving systems. She credits her career beginning in social justice practice, when she started the position of case manager at an all-girls juvenile justice facility in Texas. It was during her time spent in this facility that Erin started to see the injustices and issues within the intersection of systems. She witnessed children being removed from their homes and placed in institutions for incidents that were a result of trauma and unmet mental health needs, not inherent criminality. That’s when she knew she had to get on the front lines to learn more and moved on to become a juvenile probation officer. After her work as an officer, she transferred into the state juvenile justice agency in Texas.  All of these experiences have created a foundation that has set Dr. Espinosa on her more than 20-year career path dedicated to creating the groundwork for true systems of care in our communities. We were delighted to learn that her experience goes beyond professional and overlaps with her personal life; Erin has also served as a therapeutic foster parent.  

To spend time talking with Erin you would not necessarily guess the extent of her expertise and national presence.  She is humble and modest, considering the strong impact her work and research has had on the juvenile justice, children’s mental health and child welfare systems. Erin is widely published on a wide range of implementation and research-related efforts in juvenile justice and children’s mental health. During her time working as a program specialist at the state juvenile justice agency (formerly known as the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission) she spearheaded the?Front End Diversion Initiative, a Texas juvenile justice initiative where juvenile probation officers in Texas received motivational interviewing, family engagement, crisis intervention, and mental health training to help them better identify and work with youth who have mental health needs.? 

Erin’s primary research interest in using and translating data to bridge research to policy and practice led her to her role at Evident Change. And to her the work is clear, we must all work together to change the system to institutions pipeline.  

Comprehensively, as a team, Evident Change works to improve social systems that serve society’s most vulnerable individuals and families. Part of their work includes assisting child welfare agencies, juvenile justice, and child/family serving agencies and organizations to build and enhance their capacity to implement and sustain reforms. 

For Erin, the connection with Texas child welfare providers is clear, we are all linked in the entanglement of systems that the children and families we serve will find themselves in. She explains that she has always been extremely impressed by the child welfare leaders in our state and the work they do. She has firsthand experience working with many providers, especially during her time as a juvenile probation officer. She would love to see the juvenile justice system and child welfare system continue to strengthen partnerships and work together in communities throughout Texas to build relationships and build up support for youth that are served by both systems. Whatever Erin and the team at Evident Change can do to help this work –they are happy and willing!  

In response to our current global pandemic, Erin sees some positive aspects and explained, 

“COVID-19 is an opportunity to see system reform as a health care issue, whether it is juvenile justice or the child welfare system, it is access to appropriate services and supports that we lack genuinely lack.” 

Erin Espinosa

Erin went on to explain that she feels the state can do better to support children’s mental and behavioral health needs and one way to start is by supporting communities and organizations to build and braid funding, including a focus on building and enhancing the service array that is funded through children’s mental health. Along with that comes the need to leverage funds for these services, including the rural public health funds, Medicaid waivers and Title IV-E waivers.  All of these opportunities can serve as catalyst items that allow us to support organizations in enhancing and asking the state to reimburse for the higher end services like functional family therapy, more research-based treatments. 

To learn more about Erin and Evident Change visit their website.